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What would you do? Staging a new production for Universal Hollywood's Castle Theater

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Published: April 14, 2010 at 10:58 AM

Theme Park Insider reader Manny Barron reports today on the Discussion Board that Universal Studios Hollywood has now closed the Backdraft and Special Effects Stages attractions, to make room for the construction of the park's new Transformers ride, which will debut in 2012. (Another installations of Transformers will debut at Universal Studios Singapore next year.)

Backdraft - a fire effects show based on the 1991 Ron Howard film - is gone for good. But Special Effects Stages will reappear later this summer, in a different form, in the park's Castle Theater. For folks who've visited Universal in Florida, but not California, the just-closed Special Effects Stages included elements Florida visitors might have seen in USF's Horror Make-up Show, as well as the old Xena/Murder She Wrote shows.

I took a look at Backdraft and Special Effects Stages last summer, before plans for the upcoming King Kong encounter pushed back Transformers a year, allowing the two shows to stay open a few more months.

Special Effects Stages at Universal Studios Hollywood

I've questions whether or not Universal needs a show like Special Effects Stages, since DVD extras now have "pulled back the curtain" on filmmaking techniques for millions of home viewers. Ultimately, I think there's still great entertainment value in seeing Foley and make-up effects happen live in front of you, instead of on a screen, but I'm interested in hearing what you think.

Universal's Castle Theater has hosted several productions over the past few years, none of which has caught on with audiences to the point where Universal felt the need to keep it around. The Conan the Barbarian show enjoyed a long run in the 1980s, followed by Beetlejuice' Graveyard Revue in the 1990s. But since then, the theater's hosted Spider-Man Rocks, Fear Factor Live and, for last summer, the panned-by-everyone-but-me Creature From The Black Lagoon: The Musical.

So... this brings us to this week's "What Would You Do?" Would you put Special Effects Stages into the Castle Theater? Or should something else go into this Upper Lot venue?

Given the continuing popularity of Florida's Horror Make-up Show, should that show come to Hollywood in its entirety, instead of Special Effects Stages?

Beetlejuice still draws fans in Florida, too. If Disneyland can revive Captain EO, perhaps Universal Studios Hollywood could bring back Beetlejuice, as well?

Universal's hottest property right now is, of course, Harry Potter. But the Wizarding World is only coming to Universal Orlando. If Universal could swing the rights (and that's a HUGE if, I know), wouldn't it be nice to get at least a taste of Potter's world in a Castle Theater show? The theater itself could be made to look like a Hogwarts classroom without many structural changes.

So what would you do? What would you like to see in USH's Castle Theater - an option that would keep you coming back to the park (and the show) for years?

We'll vote in a poll, then please pitch your best idea in the comments.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on April 14, 2010 at 12:27 PM
Horror and Make up show would seem to be something they should have there especially since Universal is known for their classic Monster Movies and it is a bit educational
From Manny Barron on April 14, 2010 at 1:13 PM
I really enjoyed the Beetlejuice show from back in the day. It's still going on in Orlando and its a fun show so that got my vote here. The horror make-up show from Orlando is also very entertaining and informative. Hopefully the new FX show is done well and not rushed.
From Brandon Mendoza on April 14, 2010 at 3:00 PM
This is a tough one... as much as I like Beetlejuice, I actually preferred Conan. Seeing that Dragon come out of the ground was awesome along with the fire. And I can't say that I don't enjoy seeing an athletic yet feminine stunt woman "handle her business" without being a "damsel in distress".

But the Special Effects show should continue on and get expanded.

As much as I prefer full shows with better pacing like Beetlejuice and Conan, Special Effects shows have their place. There's something to be said about being part of the show and having yourself turned into a skeleton, or be attacked by a werewolf.

From Nick Markham on April 14, 2010 at 3:13 PM
I would do what they did with the short version of Wicked! at USJ and stage maybe a 45 minute version of Shrek- The Musical, especially being right across from Shrek-4D, being a CASTLE theatre, and almost winning best musical last year on BROADWAY!
From Robert Niles on April 14, 2010 at 3:24 PM
With Wicked gone from LA now, I'd take the USJ version at USH. (FWIW, we're getting Shrek in LA at the Pantages in 2011.)
From Wok Creative on April 14, 2010 at 10:55 PM
The effects show and Backdraft were always long lines when we have visited. It still seems to be a fun thing for people to see in person. Good musical reviews are always good, and it seems that there can never be enough stunt shows (in a good way).
I would like to see something like what was at IOA when I was there a couple of years ago. If I remember correctly, it was Aladdin, and had many great effects and stunts.
It would be good to capitalize on Harry Potter, but Uni has so many properties to choose from - even combining a few different movie stories from the same genre into one show.
Also, there seems to be a lot of push for audience participation, whether with one or a few in the show, or trying to get the whole audience involved somehow. It doesn't always work, though, as we saw at a small theater show at Legoland last summer - people just wanted to watch the kids be a part of it, and not do anything themselves (rough on the show cast members trying to get them to participate).
From Rob P on April 15, 2010 at 4:35 AM
I think that witnessing and experiencing sound effects and special effects "in the flesh" still makes for a valid attraction and has a place at Universal Hollywood.
Yes the DVD extras give details of how effects are created but it's not the same as actually having these things performed in front of you. The DVD extra, after all is said and done, is just another movie. The next DVD extra will be how the DVD extras are made. They can't compensate for " being there".
I do think , however, that more could be made of the CGI input to bring the attraction in line with current techniques. There could be greater audience participation too. I have to admit that in a much earlier thread I failed to see that possibility but have been convinced by Robert Niles and others that I was being shortsighted and now agree that this has great potential.
Whilst I love the Horror Make-Up Show and Beetlejuice I'd still prefer to re-instate a redesigned special effects attraction with all the modern techniques being explored and utilised.
From Elizabeth Gray on April 15, 2010 at 6:53 AM
I had a fond affection for the Conan the Barbarian show at USH's Castle Theater. It had a cool laser effects and a huge Dragon finale. I was actually sad when they put Beetljuice there even though I love BtlJce too.
From Joshua Counsil on April 15, 2010 at 12:49 PM
I really wish they still had a Hitchcock attraction. For a company that loves to boast about its history of classic horror films, they sure don't pay enough tribute to the king of suspense. I could just listen to Hitchcock speak for hours, like Churchill.

My proposal is a hybrid. Use the Horror Make-Up Show and Special Effects Stages, with a focus on Hitchcock. That large room used to showcase Backdraft could be a walk-through of a scene from, "The Birds," with hundreds of animatronic birds remaining mostly stationary, only issuing the occasional squawk or swoop. If done properly, it could be chilling. You could incorporate other Hitchcock staples, like the plane attack from, "North by Northwest," or one of the sickening zooms from, "Vertigo".

The special effects demonstrations could be ever-changing and used to demonstrate classic horror make-up techniques, as well as methods used for the newest Universal films.

From Robert Niles on April 15, 2010 at 2:25 PM
I should have nominated the old USF Hitchcock: Art of Making Movies show for the Castle Theater. Unfortunately, they'd need a dual theater to show the film pre-show, but the theater as it stands would handle the Psycho recreation well.

Plus, if Hitch came to Hollywood, maybe I could re-start my streak as 'Mother'.

From Rob P on April 16, 2010 at 1:43 AM
Thanks Joshua........you know I'd all but forgotten" Hitchcock : Art of Making Movies" at Universal Orlando. That was an excellent attraction and one we always loved to visit.
Now that really should be incorporated into the Hollywood Park and also brought back to Orlando where the Studios appears to be losing sight of it's original brief.
Forget speedy coasters. I want more movie based dark rides and shows at a Studios Park.

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